PARIS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Italy might be seen as the perfect opponent for France to bounce back from their opening defeats in the Six Nations, but their lack of discipline, off the pitch this time, will make their task much harder as they trade in troubled waters.
Several players were left out of the squad after they went out following a 32-26 defeat by Scotland in Edinburgh that came on the back of the 15-13 loss to Ireland in the curtain-raiser.
Although the French rugby federation did not name the players who were sanctioned, wing Teddy Thomas, who scored France’s all three tries in the first two matches, was missing in the squad announced by coach Jacques Brunel.
“With his qualities, of course I will miss him,” said Brunel, who added that the banned players would be back “if those who came in for them don’t take their place.”
Les Bleus will also miss a pair of centres in Remi Lamerat and Louis Picamoles for Friday’s home game in Marseille against the Azzurri.
Brunel, who will name his team on Wednesday, recalled Mathieu Bastareaud after his ban for homophobic comments in a Champions Cup game expired, and the Toulon centre is expected to start alongside Geoffrey Doumayrou.
Regardless of the result against a team who have conceded 102 in their first two matches, captain Guilhem Guirado believes France players need to be wary of their image.
“If we win on Friday, I think the players will go and ask Jacques if we can go out for a drink,” he told French sports daily L’Equipe on Tuesday.
Although Italy have never beaten France away since a test match in Grenoble in 1997, victory is not guaranteed as Les Bleus are on an eight-match winless streak and beat the Azzurri by only two points in the 2016 Six Nations.
France paid dearly for their lack of discipline against Ireland and Scotland, and Guirado believes the task on the pitch is already hard enough that they don’t need to add off-field problems.
“I don’t think (those who went out) don’t care but I’ve got the feeling they think ‘it’s going to be better tomorrow’,” said Guirado.
“It’s then hard to think ‘this one, I can trust him 100 percent, I know that when it will be tough (on the pitch), it will be alright. It is hard to find that trust, that collective strength again.” (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)